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For those of us who were summer residents, Daby’s General Store filled our basic needs: a greeting in the morning after a jog into town for the morning paper, a loaf of Freihofer’s bread, or a jar of peanut butter to satisfy a grandchild’s desire. With the peanut butter came a new mop to clean up the floor after that same grandchild broke the previous bottle of peanut butter! Sometimes we needed a plunger for the toilet, frozen in the subzero weather, but all the necessities of life in the country could be found on shelves, behind shelves, under shelves at Daby’s General Store.
On visiting day at Brant Lake Camp or Point O’ Pines, a fisherman hitched up the suspenders on his threadbare khaki pants and cast into the Mill Pond as parents gathered in Daby’s for last minute shopping before visiting Teddy or Zack or Binky at camp. “But I promised my child I would bring him smoked salmon and bagels. You can’t say you don’t have them!” one mother lamented as she applied lipstick designed to leave an embarrassing smudge on her son’s cheek. Meanwhile, in the days before cell phones, her husband stood in a scarred wooden phone booth and spoke with his office: “Tell Ryan to buy 1000 shares and when ACM reaches 50 sell. I will talk to you later after Jeff’s ball game ends. Sorry I can’t be at the office–––but you know.”
On camp visiting day Cadillacs, BMWs, Mercedes and Lexus replaced the normal Ford pickup, with a rifle attached to the back of the truck’s window, that usually parked at Daby’s. In fact, one visitor, watching the sleek cars making their way to the camps, called the procession—The March of the Lexi!
But when I recall, with fondness, the inhabitants of Daby’s, I envision a row of coffee mugs hanging on hooks next to the metal cash register where a bell rang when the drawer opened. I think it was an old National Cash Register that, today, might sell for several thousand dollars. And, every morning, when Daby’s opened, the local men would come into the store, take a mug with their name or logo on the side and fill it with coffee. Rob’s light green mug bore an image of his coon hound painted in gold, Ellis had his name in large black letters. These men, who were the permanent residents of Brant Lake, would convene at a table covered with a red and white checked plastic tablecloth, near the wood burning stove. There was Ernie who worked at the Simon’s Place off Grassville Road and Clive, who lost a leg in World War II. Jake shared stories of the fire at old man Smith’s barn or the influx of blackflies that had invaded the ponds in a wet spring. Sometimes nobody spoke, with the exception of an occasional “yup,” which, in the North Country, speaks volumes.
An hour passed. The local residents hung their coffee mugs back on the hooks and scattered off to their jobs lumbering, working on the roads, as caretakers for the summer camps. The cups hung silently, waiting for another day, the last drop of coffee savored by the men.
Yes, those were the villagers of Brant Lake, men who visited Daby’s each morning. And those were the mugs, seemingly empty, except for a stray drop of coffee that waited patiently for their owners’ return. And, on occasion, I envied this quiet friendship unique to the general store. Minute grains of coffee, minute words of conversation, invisible but still nestled in the cups and the lives of those who had gathered together—sharing an unspoken intimacy as another day dawned at Daby’s General Store in the hamlet of Brant Lake.